Destination San Fran – The Anti-Climax

There was exactly one flight out before the storm – the next morning, Monday, at 6:30 a.m. – with enough seats for us. The rest of the flights – particularly Wednesday – were already booked.

So, our trip cut short – the shortest trip I’ve ever taken to California – we missed our tour of Alcatraz (already purchased tickets and paid for) and never rode the trolley, never got close to the Golden Gate Bridge. I really, really wanted to walk the GG, since the steel for the bridge came from my hometown in PA. Those 3 activities topped my list for our trip, and I missed all three of them to fly home again at the crack of dawn to beat an effin snowstorm that should’ve happened two months ago. PSA #1 : Never, ever, plan the best stuff for last.

The cab we ordered to pick us up at the hotel arrived quite timely – and we later learned he hijacked us from the cab that was ordered. Todd and I decided to grab some breakfast at the terminal – this place was the bomb with made-to-order omelets – though I was in no position to eat anything but a bagel and a coffee. PSA #2 : Never, ever, eat Mexican the night before a 6-hour flight.

Todd ordered a hot chocolate with NO whipped cream. When he picked it up at the end of the line, it had whipped cream on it. See what I’m talking about? And what’s worse – he ordered a cinnamon roll and the girl bagged him a cinnamon muffin, which everyone knows are two entirely different things. So, while it happened to him again, I have to add that I ordered a blueberry muffin for later, and I didn’t open it up until we were airborne somewhere over Colorado and it was definitely not a blueberry muffin. I still don’t know what it was, but I ate it anyway.

We couldn’t get a direct flight so we had to fly into LA and catch another plane, and when we arrived we learned there was another flight leaving for Baltimore RIGHT NOW with 3 seats left if we wanted it. We took it. And of course it was a pain in the ass finding seats, and absolutely no overhead storage left so we had to check our carry-ons. I sat between a sweet elderly lady from Connecticut, and the young guy on my right kindly helped me pick up my pile of shit I spilled on the floor, and kept himself busy with games on his iPad. All appearances were it was going to be a nice easy flight.

And then Todd came up and invited me to switch with the woman seated next to him who’d offered. So I found myself sandwiched between my husband and this guy on the window seat who wasn’t much bigger than me but you’d think he was an NFL linebacker by the way he commandeered both armrests and sat with his knees further apart than a hooker in Alphabet City. He encroached on my personal space for nearly 5 hours and I haven’t wanted to punch somebody that bad since – two days ago.

We arrived in Baltimore in the afternoon, and had to wait for our carry-ons to come to the baggage carousel, which is like waiting for the dog to poo on a winter walk. And then we were directed to the wrong carousel, watching the same poor bags circling (which is positively maddening), until Todd looked over his shoulder and just happened to spot my carry-on on the carousel behind us. PSA #3 : Always use carry-on, and if you can’t – buy a really colorful bag that stands out.

The drive home wasn’t horrendous, but since Ex was sick with the flu, I had to drive all the way to his house to pick up Veruca, praying to beat the snow. Which, for those unfamiliar, is roughly two hours from BWI. So, after 13 and a half hours of traveling, I finally had V in the car and we drove home in the first flurries of winter storm Stella.

 

Destination: San Francisco, Day 2… Hey!

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Photo copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles

I was wide awake at 5:30 a.m., and Todd and Jonathan left early for the conference at 6:30. It was still dark out. I stayed in bed, thinking I’d go back to sleep, but instead started reading the hotel’s guidebooks.

Not expecting the boys back before lunch, I took to Google maps to see exactly where we were and what was around us, contemplating what I would do with myself to fill the morning. Sure, plenty of shopping. My God, could I shop! But, alas, appearances are deceiving and I don’t have money to spend like that.

My plan was to go to the coffee shop down the street for pastry or a bagel, some fruit and yogurt, and then walk over to Old Navy and buy a cheap pair of sunglasses (I left mine at home). Suddenly, I heard somebody yell, Hey!

Hey! I heard it again. Hey! It was loud, and it was coming from the street outside my window, which – by the way – is good for nothing except keeping the birds out. Hey!

Curiosity got the best of me and I slid out of bed and opened the curtain to see what was going on. Hey! Across the street was a man loitering about 10 feet from the corner, yelling Hey! at every car passing and at people on the street.

Hey! Then all of sudden his pants are down and, oh….he’s going to urinate. Perfect. Hey! He turns back toward the street and he’s still yelling hey! at cars going by. With his pants down. He’s holding his penis, which is fairly impressive if I can see it from the fourth floor, and he’s shaking it around and yelling hey!

I’m fairly open-minded, but it was just too damn early in the morning for this. Not to mention the fact that I really wanted some coffee and there was no way in hell I was going out there while the Schlonger was out there. I don’t know when he was gone because there’s only so much penis a person can take before breakfast and I’d gone back to my reading. Eventually I showered and dressed just moments before Todd texted he was on his way back.

The three of us ventured out for food and walked several blocks in search of some “diner” they had seen from the cab and were trying to recall exactly where it was. We stopped at Old Navy for sunglasses and noticed a line forming outside the store that wrapped around the building. Somebody from the Golden State Warriors was scheduled to appear and sign autographs. I always wonder at people who stand in lines three-hundred people strong just for an autograph.

The weather – absolutely beautiful – and architecture juxtaposed with scores of homeless we passed. The smell of weed, legal in here, floated on the air with nauseating frequency. We checked out a handful of places on our way, but any worthwhile ones had ridiculous lines (it was Sunday, after all). We finally found Mel’s Drive-In – which is I guess what they had in mind – and were seated right away.

Todd has this luck with places when we eat out where something always happens to him. And only to him. I pointed it out, casually explaining to Jonathan that he’s a magnet for this shit. Todd protested, but I swear to God it happened several times on this trip and he couldn’t deny it. Case in point: #1 – the lettuce/tomato/pickle incident at John’s Grill the day before.

#2. His iced tea glass at Mel’s appeared to have something on it. And then his omelet wasn’t fully cooked. Everyone else’s food was perfect.

We passed a store called Good Vibrations with a poster illustrating the evolution of vibrators for each decade since the 1970s. The catchphrase: Creating a Buzz Since 1977. This cracked me up. Jonathan said he’d give me $20 to buy one and try to get it through airport security. I told you he was a man of few, but calculated words.

We walked back past Old Navy, the line now stretching two city blocks. We considered taking the trolley, but the line was as long as the day before. I suggested we save it for tomorrow, since we could take it to Fisherman’s Wharf to catch our Alcatraz tour.

We decided to take a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, and were surprised at the stark difference between environments – Union Square vs. Fisherman’s Wharf. No less people, but it felt much less humanly-chaotic. Opac called me while I was on the cable car, to update me on Veruca’s condition and to suggest that maybe he should skip school tomorrow since there’ll be a snow day on Tuesday anyway. I failed to see the logic in this and told him to forget it.

We walked around the waterfront and took pictures. My friend Dave, who lives out here, warned me to avoid touristy things, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I found a place called Hard Water, with a wall of whiskeys, bourbons, and single malts. Looked like a good place to stop to me, with only 4 people seated around a u-shaped bar; however, we pressed on.

Eventually we hopped a cable car back to Union Square, where Todd realized his cell phone had officially crapped out and lucky us – there was a T-Mobile store right there. So J and I sat down while Todd handled his phone situation, and Opac called me again. I was completely parched and dehydrated, so I stepped outside to see if there was anywhere nearby that might sell water. No dice. I called V to see how she was feeling – she only had a fever which left her very sleepy, but certainly NOT flu. Her dad did have the flu, and he actually joked that I know how he is when he’s sick (giant wuss on his deathbed) and I remarked he was lucky to have his wife, to which he simply said, ah, she just ignores me.

Anyway, we had plans for dinner with another colleague and his wife at 5 so we returned to the hotel to clean up. The boys took the elevator and made fun of me for taking the stairs. But I told you, I’m not dying on an elevator in San Francisco. Besides, I passed other people who chose to take the stairs, thus confirming my concerns.

We met them at their hotel and walked to Tropisueno, a Mexican restaurant with divine food and even better margaritas. The place was already bustling but the ambience lent intimacy and felt comfortable, not rushed. The conversation melted away from shop talk into personal stories and speculation about the impending snow storm on Tuesday.

Afterward, Jonathan and Rob grabbed some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and we continued walking. We passed the Disney Store and went in. There’s a lot of Beauty and the Beast stuff, which I love, though thank God I didn’t have money with me because I had just enough of a buzz to have bought stuff. There was a short lightsaber battle by the front door, and the cast member there showed me a secret Jedi handshake, which I’ve completely forgotten now. And that’s when our night abruptly ended, when J got the email that our Tuesday morning flight had been cancelled.

*Many of us are familiar with the slang, schlong, but have you heard of a schlort? Urban Dictionary defines schlong as a penis of fairly good length, so then it’s not difficult to guess what a schlort is.

Destination San Francisco: Dazed and Confused

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Photo copyright  TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

Part 1, continued

So we get off the plane and head toward the exit where Visitor Information gives us a thousand instructions on taking BART into the city. Todd is the only one paying attention. She lost me after the third step of the directions. We opt for a cab, which they said would cost about $65. After six hours on a plane and no sleep, it was a no-brainer.

We crossed the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, where I caught my first IRL sighting of the Golden Gate Bridge. Outside my window, people walking everywhere, pushing strollers, wearing St. Patrick’s Day attire, and I saw a woman digging through a trash can. I watched the cab’s meter ticking. We racked up $60 faster than a slot machine swallowing money, and by this time Todd was getting antsy. Because today was the St. Patrick’s Day parade and every other street was closed to traffic. He made the call to exit the cab at $85 and walk the rest of the way to the hotel.

The Hotel Bijou, billed as a boutique hotel, is themed after the cinema, and located on the corner of Mason and Eddy Streets. There was a homeless man sitting cross-legged against the hotel wall, the sole of one shoe all but gone, smoking what appeared to be a very fat spliff. I ambivalently followed Todd into the hotel lobby which, at half the size of our kitchen, disproportionately resembled the online pictures.

The 65-room hotel was built in 1911. The lobby walls were eggplant colored and two canary-yellow chairs faced the double doors. The counter resembled a retro movie theater counter, part of which had a glass display case with the standard movie snacks. There was an apprehension behind me that was palpable, before Jonathan seemed to hear my thoughts and said aloud, this should be fine. Todd, ever chatty, told the clerk he liked the theme of the hotel. She informed him that they were renovating and soon the cinema theme would be gone, which explained the discrepancy of the pictures and the large black curtain ominously covering one wall of the lobby. She explained that beyond the curtain was a space large enough to cater to 150 people, and that the renovations were intended to open up that space as a restaurant/event space.

One of the maids appeared with a steam machine, with which she began to clean the art deco carpet not more than 8 feet away while we were still checking in. I glanced at Todd, waiting for a reaction. I looked over my shoulder at her for a millisecond, and watched the clerk for a reaction. None from anyone.

After we were all checked in, she instructed us to make sure we pushed the elevator button hard. I’ve never been afraid of elevators, having attended NYU where nearly every class I had involved riding an elevator. I pushed the 4th floor button hard and….. nothing. I pushed it again. And again. This elevator made me nervous. Jonathan stood silently still. He’s a man of few, but calculated words. Todd reached over and pressed it and suddenly the doors closed and we rumbled upward. All I could think was, I didn’t fly OPEN SEATING for SIX hours on a plane with a screaming child to San Francisco just to die in an elevator.

Each room door has a plaque emblazoned with a movie title. Ours was After the Thin Man, a movie I’ve never even heard of, and J got 48 hours. The bare-bones room contained art deco-ish furniture well past its prime, a forest-green carpet, and yellow walls. I threw myself back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, while Todd pulled out his laptop and connected to the wifi. I snapped a couple of selfies never to be posted on social media. No matter what I do, I can never find a good angle that doesn’t look like Quasimodo.

After freshening up, we ventured out in search of food…by this time it was about 3 p.m. which to our sensibilities was really 6 p.m. and, after eating only breakfast, was a long overdue dinner-time. The man outside the hotel was gone, but there were several others in the vicinity talking to themselves or shouting at each other. Where were we?

We stumbled on John’s Grill, a lovely, albeit small little establishment “since 1908” with dark wood-paneled walls covered with black and white photos of famous people. It was the setting for the Maltese Falcon, and apparently a landmark self-described as having excellent service.

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Photo copyright  TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2017

Jonathan had the salmon, which was the best he’s ever had. I opted for comfort food with the Ravioli Primavera in a creamy tomato sauce. Todd ordered a New York Steak sandwich, served open-faced with seasoned fries. One side held the steak, the other side lettuce, tomato, and pickle. Todd apologized and asked the waiter for another half without tomato (he’s allergic). Sure! Said the waiter, and never came back. I don’t know what you consider “excellent service,” but a waiter with no more than four tables who can’t remember who ordered what (including drinks) and forgets to check back at the table, like ever, wouldn’t last a day in my restaurant.

When he finally did return, he pulled a classic pass-the-buck by asking, they never brought that out to you? And then redeemed himself by bringing us flan with fresh berries on the house, which is not only my most favorite dessert ever, but was killer. The boys were kind enough to be stuffed and only ate a few bites, leaving the rest to me. Opac called while we were there, informing me that Veruca and her dad had come home from softball practice with the flu.

As we were finishing up, I overheard a homeless man enter the restaurant begging for just a cup of coffee, and the hostess quietly shooed him outside. Summary review: The food was every bit as good as the exiting patrons promised when we arrived. Definitely check it out.

We walked around afterward in balmy temperatures reaching a breezy 70 degrees, encountering a homeless man in a wheelchair having a lengthy conversation with the air, and eventually made our way to Market Street. We passed the cable car turnaround, with a line of maybe 80 people. Major stores, street performers, and such a cultural diversity it was almost as if we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

An organized but small rally of black Americans was standing near The Gap corner, yelling about the black man and the white man and I-don’t-know-what-else, but it immediately threw me back to my first excursion out as an NYU student when I encountered a similar message delivered slightly less emphatically by men dressed in white robes. Something about it made me feel more uncomfortable this time.

A group of college kids ran by us wearing banana headdresses. There was a 3-piece scrappy-looking band playing really good music, and folks were stopping to listen, video, and dance. The earlier police presence during the parade had all but vanished.

The boys were on a quest for coffee that wasn’t Starbucks, and we ended up at a corner coffee shop about a block from our hotel. We sat in front of the huge glass window. I drank water while they talked shop, listening with half an ear and watching people outside, trying to process the day and not to make eye contact with anyone. Which is hard to do when you’re sitting in a huge window like an animal in the zoo.

The conversation turned to the impending winter storm hitting the east coast that threatened to derail our plans to return Tuesday. I’d faded into the background as one would in a dream sequence, hearing and seeing everything but feeling very much apart from it. And, just as suddenly, my heart was pounding and I was feeling a crushing anxiety. Todd, so attuned to me, turned and asked if I was alright. No, I said.

I knew it was just fatigue, and said so. I’d had just 3 hours of sleep and none on the plane, and everything compounded my sensitivities until I felt like my chest would explode. We walked back to the hotel, crossing the street behind a group of young men being chased by a woman screaming give me back my money! over and over. I turned quickly toward the hotel and missed one of them punching her until she fell over in the street.

Once inside the room I felt the hot tears pushing through the ducts like a birthing baby. Everything just fell to pieces. I pulled myself together and changed into pjs, laid on the bed while Todd skyped with J and Matt back home on the presentation. I posted on FB lamenting on the overwhelming homeless situation here, and promptly passed out – at roughly 6:30 p.m. Pacific.

Destination: San Francisco, Part 1

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Three hours into a six-hour flight on Southwest Airlines. Had no idea about “open seating.” WTF is up with open seating? Whose idea was this? We were literally among the last five to board, so Todd and I were separated, but luckily were across the aisle from each other in the middle seats. AKA, the seats nobody wants. But I got to sit with someone he knows from the college, so it made it a little better.

I just got up from a bathroom break. Jonathan is in the last row by the window and he’s holding the bag of soft pretzels, so I grabbed it on my way back to my seat. They were yummy. A bit salty, but buttery good. Todd is drawing on his iPad. “Fritos in the sky.” I love his whimsical stuff right now. It’s fun. And weird. Like me.

There’s a very small child two rows ahead of us who’s been serenading us with variations of screams and exclamations. I was almost asleep during a lull and then Blam! I opened my eyes and made eye contact with the woman in front of me, who was standing in the aisle. We gave each other that look of OH MY GOD. Three more hours of this.

There are several people on board from the college who are also attending the conference, so it kinda feels like a class trip. Except this is more subdued, and there’s alcohol. It’s going to be fun. We were already socializing in the airport waiting to board. We’re invited to the president’s dinner on Monday night, which should be great fun given who’s along for the ride.

Confession: this is my first plane ride in 19 years. First trip back to California in 22. How did so much time get away from me?? So, in reality, flying hasn’t changed all that much, but some things are definitely different.

Last night we went to the bowling alley. I wasn’t going to drink because we had to get up at 4:30 this morning, but then Connie showed up and asked for a recommendation, and like a good friend I told her to have a Long Island Iced Tea. We hung out at the bar watching these 5 old guys flirting with the girls on the opposite side of the bar; it cracked me up so I took a pic. One of them offered us shots too, but that was a road I wasn’t going down last night. I had 3 Coronas, and that was enough. I was up until 1 packing and organizing. I think I managed 3 hours and maybe 50 minutes of sleep.

1:06 p.m. (EST) Tried reading my Nat Geo article about Vikings. Sleepy. Think I dozed off for a few, but baby starting screeching again. Ugh. I’m getting stabby.

2:30 p.m. We had a reprieve for about a half hour, but she’s back. Practicing for a very bad opera, or a heavy metal band. Doesn’t matter to my ears at this point. They are bleeding. My nerves are completely shot. The captain has informed us that we’re about 40 minutes out yet. Sweet Jesus! I can’t wait to get off this rocket.

Oh hooray! It’s going to get bumpy and we’re starting to clean up. If there was any way to clear it with the FDA and the AAP, I would seriously lobby for mandatory Valium dosing of children under 5 on flights longer than 2 hours. Apparently these parents haven’t heard of Benadryl. Seriously. All mommy did was “ssshhh” every time she screamed and by the fourth hour I was ready to throw my cell phone at them both.

I’ve recently been heavily reminiscing about Opac’s baby days. But I’ve never been more glad than I am today that my kids are way older than this now. Holy shit. Nobody wants to be the most hated people on the plane.

Time to put the tray tables back in the upright position…

A Day in PA

It was a great bookend to a very bizarre weekend that involved a new car and a fire, both of which I am not authorized to discuss publicly. Not to mention a shocking Superbowl win for the Patriots.

My mom had oral surgery yesterday morning and everyone knows you need a driver for that kind of stuff and as the daughter it’s my job to get her there. And take pictures.

So after a series of extremely fucked up dreams I fell into after each blood sugar check, all of which clearly indicate a very disturbed subconscious – including being detained at the airport because I was carrying pump supplies which weren’t authorized and another dream about being summoned by a mean spirit who lives in the restaurant who meant to harm me – I got two kids off to school without missing any busses and twenty minutes later I was on my way to PA.

Anyway, the drive was mostly uneventful, at least until I got to a major intersection where my right turn lane had the green arrow and I was following the cars in front of me into that turn when all of a sudden, this car from the other side of the highway does a complete U-turn right into me. Slammed the brakes, she slammed the brakes, and I could literally see the whites of her eyes while I lost my shit through my closed window.

Fact: U-turns are ILLEGAL in Pennsylvania. I know this because – born and raised – and lived 44 years (minus 3 in New York) in Pennsylvania. Had I not been on a tight timetable, I might have let her hit me. Just because I’m crazy enough to teach the little bitch a lesson in driving safety and another little something called, The Law.

So Mom goes to the oral surgeon. Except I’m driving and she keeps telling me where to go like I haven’t grown up in this town and don’t know my way around, and then she doesn’t even know where his office is, except I do because I’ve already been there with Opac. She gets out of the car and notes the concrete steps she’ll have to navigate on the way out when she’s all loopy. I told her I’d move the damn car after she went in. No, it’s okay, she said. I give her a pass, since she’s been up for 3 hours and hasn’t had coffee yet and I know how that feels.

So the procedure took about an hour or so and then she was in recovery and they come get me. I know many people have been there with their parents and/or have lost parents, but I have been doubly blessed to have both of mine and they’re healthy, so my eyes watered when I saw her. She was still coming out of the anesthesia so she was sleepy-eyed and her right cheek was bulging with gauze. She looked over at me and I held up my phone and, say cheese! Her eyes narrowed and I told her I was just kidding, because I was.

She was lucid enough to talk, and she was saying stuff to me I couldn’t understand – one, because I’m hard of hearing, and two, because her mouth is stuffed with gauze and so all I hear is wuh wuh wuh wuh ah buh wuh unh huh. And I’m pissed, because she is still in recovery and maybe I’m missing some really good shit here. But eventually she told me to go ahead and take the pic, and she posed with the bulging gauzed-out cheek and her eyes shut and her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth. We sent it to a friend and I captioned it, they said it’ll be another 2o minutes or so until she can get her tongue back in her mouth. And I started laughing so hard I was crying, and then Mom started sniggling and it was hard because she couldn’t feel the right side of her face which was even funnier.

We eventually got the all-clear and she got her exit papers. We made a drug run to CVS where she made new friends as she waited with this giant ice pack pressed to her cheek, and I repressed my desire to blurt out that she was in a bar brawl, and then I took her home and made my way back to Maryland. But I can’t do this without passing through part of my old hometown, which is full of wonder and excitement that only the fully initiated can appreciate. I passed a woman standing on the side of the street in a camouflage bathrobe and flip flops, a winter hat with the ball on top that was bright blue with white snowflakes on it and a scarf wrapped around her face so only her eyes were visible. She was pacing back and forth. This is Pottstown at its finest, folks. I just can’t make this shit up.

I made it back home with 10 minutes to spare before the kids got there…by some miracle after being cut off, tailgated, and narrowly avoiding what should have been a 10-car pile-up on Route 100 in Lionville (for those who know) when this woman threw on her right turn signal and just merged without ever looking. Thank God for the car in front of me and their quick reflexes, because otherwise we were all going down.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland…

Ever have one of those days where you’re sure the universe is trying to tell you something? I think yesterday was that day. Besides the rainy day and the PA drivers living up to their stellar reputation for dangerous driving, I rushed home to find our garage door open – which has done so spontaneously now 3 times and so it’s been disconnected. I was gone all day, and I have no idea when it opened.

Then the kids descended on the house with their own level of chaos, ransacking the kitchen and scaring the dog and the cat, whose tail puffed out like a deployed airbag. And then they’re arguing with each other, which seems impossible when they’ve been apart for 8 hours. And then I get the news that the toilet is clogged again. And no one knows how it happened.

Rush hour here looks like: hurry up and make dinner, feed the pets, drag the kids out of their bedrooms where they’re both practically asleep, clean up dinner and dishes, process two loads of laundry, unclog a toilet and finish the vacuuming started by Veruca, who was ordered to clean up her mess under the counter. Fruity Pebbles are the annoying glitter of the cereal world.

How did it end? On the couch with V – watching old episodes of X-Files. Todd finally rolled in around 10 and I might have been awake for a whole 20 minutes after.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Years Later

It happened again. Another anniversary crept up on me before I even realized it was happening. It turns out today is the 3rd anniversary of our move to Maryland. If this is news to you, and you really want the back story, there are links at the end of this post. For the purposes of this post, however, I had to go back and revisit Two Years Later just to see how things have changed.

Three years later, our lives have seen some big changes and we’ve said some goodbyes. We said goodbye to elementary school, as Veruca “graduated” the 5th grade. We said goodbye to Neph, who decided to move back home. We said goodbye to Pi. She lived a long and happy life, but she was ready long before we would ever be. So, we now have just one dog and one cat, and no plans to add to the brood. Some extended-family dynamics changed as well, which are better left unsaid.

Three years later, Opac has returned to football after a broken collarbone acquired during practice tackling drills last year. He is starting this year as a JV defensive lineman. I heard his name and jersey number announced for the first time last night, when he ran the ball runner out of bounds. Proud momma moment! He’s still an honor student… nothing new to see here. He still likes his rap music, but he has recently discovered the WWF of the 1980s and loves replaying videos of his favorites, Randy Savage and Rick Flair. I wish I could just explain the irony of this.

Three years later, Veruca has started middle school. It was a much easier transition than I expected. I was much less emotional about it than I was when O started. This year, V has met two other girls in her grade with Type 1 diabetes, and it’s had a very interesting and positive effect on her. And, after much deliberation, she returned to cheer this year, but I think this is going to be the last year. She’s ready to try something new, and I admit I’m ready to put an end to six days a week of running kids to and from practices/sports.

Three years later, we didn’t do any major renovations around the house, but we did some minor things in preparation for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary party. Which we hosted here. It was a bit stressful in the month leading up to it, but the party itself turned out great and we had gorgeous weather. We had a tent, live music, and a neighbor hollered at one of our guests parking on the street.

Three years later, Todd is still a professor. He’s taken a step back from more intense responsibilities but if you ask me, I think he’s now climbing the walls. He is still working on that personal and potentially very lucrative project that I mentioned briefly last year. Breath held. Meanwhile – and I know this will come as a shock to those who know me – I’m still working in the restaurant business. Somehow I think I will die there, and they’ll bury me under the bar. However, I am also doing some grant research and writing – I’m really enjoying it and I’m hoping to see it develop more in the coming year.

Three years later, the apartment we said we’d never rent – is occupied. No worries – it’s a good thing. A good friend of ours was in need, and the timing was good. You know the family you get and the family you choose? He’s the family we choose. There’s a lot of trust there, and for that I’m grateful.

Three years later, and this is a big one – Todd and I finally got that vacation. It was shorter than we would’ve liked, but it was longer than a weekend and we were alone.

Three years later, I’m a Marylander. I’m not just visiting, I’m not a new resident, I LIVE HERE. I no longer feel like an outsider, I truly feel like I belong here.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Changing Places – The Prequel

Changing Places – Moving Day

Changing Places – We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

 

 

 

A Brick, A Big Black Snake, and Some Hot Action – Adventure Camp Concludes

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North Bay, on the beach. Copyright TaraKA & the Tara Chronicles, 2016.

 

Morning

When we arrived back at camp on day 3, already there was a humid haze hanging over camp. This morning’s breakfast selection included pancakes, and cereal. Pancakes are unkind to the blood sugars, but I decided to dismiss my worries over V’s diet this week. I drank more coffee than necessary – in fact, I was drinking coffee like water at every meal – and tried to focus on the conversation around me, which had become very difficult to do.

I forgot to mention that on day 2 a group of young men from a Washington, DC high school arrived around lunchtime. Their lessons didn’t impinge upon us in any way over the following days; however, they shared mealtimes with us, and they were anything but quiet, controlled, or courteous. This became a source of controversy and discussion by the last day.

The first lesson of the day was named, ACTION, which implies exactly that. The girls’ Action was beach cleanup. Our counselor told them they could wear “water shoes” but I told Veruca that she didn’t need to go into the water for this task. After some brief instructions, the girls set out over the beach to collect garbage and debris, which they brought back to our counselor to categorize and record.

I took my post under Rogue’s Pier, in the shade. Hey, I’m over 40 and this heat wanted to kill me. It was already 92 degrees at 9 a.m. and the light breeze could only be appreciated in the shade. I released any guilt I might have had by justifying that I could be of no help to Veruca if she went low, if I passed out from heat exhaustion.

The girls wandered the beach collecting things that had washed up from the bay, and miscellaneous trash, for what felt like an hour. V got her sneakers soaked. When they took a break to change shoes in the cabin, I walked back to the car to retrieve her extra pair and damn near stepped on a black snake sunning itself on the driveway. It was one of those moments where I picked up to a jog and noticed something long and black in front of me and didn’t realize what it was until I was on top of it. Its shiny little black head with its beady little eyes looking up at me like, go ahead and step on me, bitch.

Afternoon

Lunchtime, again shared with DC Boys. I forget what we ate. It’s all a blur now and, quite possibly, blocked out. (Side note: I just asked V if she remembered what we ate and she said no, and that she didn’t want to remember.) I can’t believe I didn’t lose weight on this adventure, because I barely ate anything other than the salad that was served at every meal. And because – sweating. There was a napkin-eating contest on the stage. The volunteers had the corner of a paper napkin in their mouth, and had to pull the whole thing in without touching it. The first one to get the whole napkin in his mouth won. This got the attention of DC Boys, who were riveted by the action and hysterical. It was the first – and only – time it felt like we were all in the same cafeteria.

After lunch was Lesson 2: “Food D lesson.” Our group retired to the classroom inside the dining hall, where they learned about food waste and weighed the food from lunch to be composted/thrown away. There followed a nice humid hike through the woods in search of paw paw fruit, that fruit made famous by Baloo in the Jungle Book. My mind drifted to that refreshing shower I was going to sneak in between dropping Opac and driving back.

My fellow chaperone-mom recounted the fallout from news of the DC Boys sharing our camp. Apparently the girls in her side of our cabin (roughly, 8 girls on each side), when they called home last night, mentioned these boys. One of the parents demanded to speak to her and badgered her with questions about who they were, where they were, whether the girls’ cabin was locked at night, etc. She told the parent to call the administrative office, and apparently our assistant principal was now involved. I so love juicy gossip! I wish I knew how that phone call ended.

It made sense that only one school should be there at a time. But the insinuation that these boys were somehow dangerous to our kids pissed me off. The only criticism I had, was that they ate with us. I think it was very poor management to place our two very different dynamics in the dining hall at the same time. Because they were talking loudly and simultaneously with the counselor on stage who was leading our kids. And NO ONE did a damn thing about it. Not the North Bay counselors, and especially not the boys’ chaperones – who, for what it’s worth, looked like retired linebackers, walking around looking like somebody hit their momma. The whole situation just seemed so rude, and it had everybody talking about it. Actually, amend that: the only criticism I had was for the adults who didn’t manage the situation properly.

The rest of the afternoon played out mostly indoors. It was just too hot. The girls didn’t want to be outside anymore, so they hung out in the cabin. I left to pick Opac up and take him home from practice again, leaving V with the very capable people at camp.

By some miracle, I made it back in time for dinner. They were resurfacing the main road all week and traffic in Northeast was miles long. Dinner was pizza and buffalo chicken, with salad. Best meal yet. This last dinner included shout-outs – each of the kids was invited to write down a shout-out and place in the box on stage, to be read during dinner. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear any of it (see above).

As a continuation of the earlier food lesson, where they also set the tables for dinner, the girls were on cleanup duty in the dining hall. They finished in record time and were allowed to go to the gym until North Bay Live started. The gym is the only building without air conditioning, but no one seemed to care on this last night. We hung out there until called to line up outside the theater for the show.

Evening, and North Bay Live!

The kids were all pumped for the last episode of Toobie. Toobie turned out to be a good friend who stopped his friend from punching someone out and getting arrested and ruining his life. Everybody cheered. There was a lot of talk from the counselors, reminding kids why bullying hurts everyone, and how important it is to be a good friend, to accept others for who they are, and to be true to yourself. Most important message of the night: We all have a purpose.

The hosts, Nicole and Dave, mentioned a little ritual they do at the conclusion of every camp session – it had something to do with touching a brick and I can’t for the life of me recall the significance of it. Probably something about North Bay and the kids’ own attitudes forming the foundation for their future. Yeah, that’s it.

They called all of the chaperones down to the stage, and they honored us for our time and generosity by having the kids applaud us. And then… they invited the kids to come down, one row at a time, and touch that brick. I was watching the girls’ side, naturally, and many of them hugged Nicole too, and several of these girls were bawling their eyes out. And suddenly, tears were forming in my eyes and goddammit I was finally finally living my dream of being on stage, staring out into a darkened theater, except this wasn’t Shakespeare, it was a middle school adventure camp and I was in danger of making a complete fool out of myself.

Time to reel myself in. I snapped a pic of Veruca as she hugged Nicole, and then gave up trying to high five the girls as they passed us since they were clearly too emotional for high-fiving….so, being strategically placed center stage, I turned toward the boys and offered my palm and they were totally down with it! I felt much better and managed to wipe the wetness under my eyes with my left hand.

The three of us drove home in silence. (My friend’s son, one of V’s friends, did not wish to be an overnighter either, so he traveled with us all week.) I imagined the deep messages from North Bay Live were sinking in, but in reality I think they were just exhausted. And me, I think I’m going to remember the experience longer than they will.

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

 

 

 

 

 

Head Lice, Harnesses, and Wetlands – Adventure Camp, Day 2

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The “advanced” ropes course. Copyright TaraKA & The Tara Chronicles, 2016.

Okay, not really. Nobody got head lice. And, before I get sued for slander, nobody got head lice at North Bay.

We arrived back at camp around 8 a.m. just as everyone was lining up for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, and home-fried potatoes. I sat with many of the same women as the day before, and sipped my coffee as the conversation turned to last night’s dinner. V and I left before dinner last night because I had to pick Opac up from football practice by 6, so we missed out on the “tacos.”

They were served a bowl of meat that resembled ground beef, but the texture was more like turkey. Or was it chicken? They didn’t know. There was a great deal of speculation over it, now that there was enough distance between the meal itself and the present time.

Somehow the conversation segued into a discussion about the helmets used for the ropes course and zip lines, and the mom leading the food debate regaled us with head lice tales that curdled my coffee. Someone wondered aloud if they sprayed the helmets before each kid used them. All it takes is one kid, and one nit….  And then another mom told an equally sordid tale of her head lice ordeal, and I began to feel waves of anxiety washing over me like hot and cold water. I’m positive my efforts to keep my eyes from popping were in vain, and I’m sure my reaction helped fuel the conversation.

I’ve never been so relieved to have a meal come to an end, though I thoroughly enjoyed my new companions. Our group then set off for our first activity of the day: the ropes course. Where the kids would don harnesses, and … helmets. As the girls lined up to put on their gear, the knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter until I couldn’t differentiate whether it was caused by the breakfast conversation or my fears for Veruca’s safety. (A couple of weeks ago a woman fell to her death at a zip-lining place in nearby Delaware, and it was still very fresh in my mind.)

North Bay’s philosophy is to leave the challenge choices up to the kids, so there’s never any pressure. Three of the girls sat out, and then a fourth stepped out of the line and joined them. Veruca had a few moments of uncertainty, and I said nothing. I was very careful to allow her to make the choice, and she decided to go for it. My heart in my throat, I videoed her navigation right up to the end. Afterward, she wrote in her North Bay journal that she was “terrified.”

Our counselors then led us through a wooded trail to a circular clearing with benches all around for a team-building lesson. The lessons were aimed at learning each other’s names, and working together to complete tasks – like lining up in order of birthdays, in complete silence, without anyone saying a single word. They finished up by having to clear a swinging jump rope, first alone, and then in groups of three – all without being touched by the rope.

Lunch followed and there was another edition of what’s in the foil that turned out to be a hamburger. I ate the salad and some fruit, and avoided the dayglo-orange jello surprise with chunks of fruit in it. The kids at a nearby table were holding up slices of it and examining it like a science project.

Lesson 2, “Wetlands,” took us to a large outdoor deck set high above the wetlands below, and overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. It was stunning. I zoned out on the view while the counselors conducted the lesson, and tried not to focus on the 90-degree temperatures. At the conclusion, we trekked to the outdoor Wetlands lab, where the girls pulled on their water shoes/rain boots/etc. and trudged into the water to collect samples. The other chaperone and I huddled on an outdoor step in the shade, and eventually we were joined by K who was low and trending low (CGM said her blood sugars were continuing to go down) and again she turned to me for advice on what to do. She sat with me for a while and snarfed down Smarties and guzzled water.

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The Wetlands lab. Copyright TaraKA & the Tara Chronicles, 2016.

It was oppressively hot. I gave up trying to wipe the sweat off the back of my neck and pulled my hair up into a not-so-attractive tiny pony tail. We returned to the cabin to change shoes, and then headed to Horseshoe Point to the art classroom. The instructor there led us out to the beach to choose a piece of driftwood and shells/any other materials the girls would like to use for their project.

This was followed by the zip line activity, and this time Veruca said no way. At this point I left to pick up Opac, and left V at camp with her group. I returned just after dinner started, and checked up on her meal choices and insulin bolus. I don’t remember what was served. I didn’t eat, since I had treated Opac to McDonald’s and I kinda-sorta ate something there too. Our group was assigned to spend time at Horseshoe Point after dinner, which made V happy since she got to eat Cotton Candy ice cream again. We killed time in there until North Bay Live! started.

Each day of camp concludes with a show – North Bay Live! – with music and performances and a 3-part TV show called Toobie about young people making wrong choices, the consequences of those choices, and how they might make different choices. The kids absolutely loved this freaking show – we missed the first episode because we left before dinner – and the simple mention of it sent them into raucous cheering. The noise inside the theater was deafening, but at least we had air conditioning. And there was a rat.

Not a real rat, but a grown man in a giant rat costume who came to talk smack with the two hosts of the show, and it all boiled down to not bullying people and accepting one another for who they are, differences and all. It was great. The kids were hysterical, and the only thing that would’ve made it better for me would’ve been an extra-large margarita. And a pillow.

 

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

Idyllic Adventure Camp, Giant Swing, and Frog’s Spit

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North Bay Adventure Camp. Photo copyright TaraKA and Tara Chronicles, 2016.

As the mother of a Type 1 child, I’ve been on many field trips either as chaperone or just as “nurse.” I’ve been to an arts institute, a technical high school, the Amish Farm, Fair Hill Nature Center (3 years in a row), the local waste treatment plant, Longwood Gardens, a high school drama club performance, Annapolis, Conowingo Dam, and several outdoor scientific explorations in our local area. We live in a rich landscape of nature and bodies of water here in our corner of Maryland and our school system takes full advantage of outdoor classroom opportunities, often led by an organization called North Bay. It’s one of the things I love about living here. The field trips, however fun, always leave me feeling hungover and flu-like by the time we get home – so I was really not looking forward to being on a 4-day field trip.

When we first moved here three years ago, Opac was in 7th grade and Veruca was in 3rd. Opac came home one day telling me about the 6th graders being gone for a week, to some place called North Bay. What do you mean, they’re gone all week?  “They go there and stay overnight for the whole week,” he said. After a nanosecond of – who in their right mind plans something like this – it occurred to me that one day I’d have to face this with V. I already knew there was no freaking way she was going there. I was prepared for battle over this, prepared to tell someone that they can’t make her go, and there was no freaking way I was going to this place for a week – overnight. I had already made up my mind, three years ago, that she wasn’t going.

And then the day finally came. The 6th grade trip to North Bay Adventure Camp. This year we were going the second week of school – the newly-minted middle-schoolers barely adapted to their new environment – and we would also be the first school to kick off North Bay’s school season. There were packets to fill out, medical forms to complete, and FBI clearance forms to turn in. Answers to questions were sparse, and it felt like we were all going in blind on a wing and a prayer.

Veruca rode the bus to school the first day, and I was scheduled to arrive independently at North Bay at 11 a.m. I checked in and received my wristband for the week. The chaperones were milling about at the main point of entry between the administrative building and the Dining Hall.

The buses pulled up around noon, and the kids disembarked to loud music and cheering counselors all in red t-shirts, and were directed to the end of the boardwalk between the two buildings. They were divided into two sides – boys and girls – and that is how they would stay until they returned home. There was some welcome-to-North-Bay fanfare, followed by instructions and expectations over the next several days, and dismissal to collect their luggage and report to their cabins. Even though V was considered a “day camper,” she was still assigned a cabin to change and rest in between lessons and activities.

We had some down-time there as I met the “overnight mom,” and the girls made up their bunk beds and unpacked. I got to meet the two young ladies I’ve been hearing about – K and M – who also have type 1 diabetes. K and M were overnighters, and this would begin the ongoing conversation with V about why can’t I stay overnight too? that I finally had to shut down after the second day.

Finally… lunch! I proactively packed myself a turkey sandwich just in case. In case of what, I wasn’t sure, but anyway. The kids lined up outside the dining hall – 3 lines each of boys on one side, girls on the other. The tables inside were tables of 8, and there were “overflow” tables for the one or two extra campers from individual cabins that didn’t fit at the original 8. This would be something that the kids determined at each mealtime – who would go to the overflow table, and the only rule established was that it was on a rotation-basis.

The grownups had their own tables, and on that first entry into the dining hall – it felt like being back in school again, being the new kid, trying to find a friendly table to sit at. I internally chastised myself for feeling like this. I’m 47 years old! Who cares anymore? It’s funny how quickly we can recall adolescence. Those situations are burned into one’s memory for all eternity.

I found a table. Meals are served “family style,” meaning that we each have a plate with some food on it, and then there are platters and bowls of other offerings we serve ourselves from. There’s a table runner, or whatever they’re called, from each table who has to go get refills if needed and more pitchers of water. I don’t know how I managed to avoid being one of those, for the whole week.

The counselor who welcomed us on arrival stood on stage with a microphone, dispensing more information that met my ears in a way that made me immediately think of the Peanuts teacher. I asked another chaperone if I was missing anything important and she said all she heard was, wanh wanh wanh wanh wanh wanh.

So, lunch. There was something wrapped in foil on the plates, alongside a banana. The foil revealed a … turkey sandwich! It was on a wheat bun with a slice of orange cheese that was not cheddar, and appeared innocuous enough so I ate it. We were also served a bowl of salad tossed with ranch, and I quickly learned that salad was going to be the mealtime saving grace. For dessert, a large plate filled with chocolate chip cookies. Now, I’ve been avoiding junk food in favor of a more healthy gut and not gaining any more weight, but I ate a cookie. And then I ate another. And then there were two left that nobody wanted, so overnight mom and I each took one.

Then, M and Veruca came over to me with K, who told me her sugar was “xx” and going down (she wears a CGM) and asked me what she should do. [!!!!!!!] Who died and made me T1 momma of North Bay?! So I asked her, what do you usually do? I do this. Great! Let’s do that and see how it goes, okay? (** I would never, ever, assume I know what to do for another type 1 child. I don’t even know this young lady’s mother.)

Because North Bay is all about science and environmental education, of course they compost and recycle, and there’s a method to this madness. Paper on one plate/bowl, uneaten food that cannot be composted on another, compost on yet another. Empty any unfinished liquids back into the pitchers, stack the dirty plates, pile flatware on top, stack the cups. It suddenly seemed so complicated and I was relieved that someone else at the table took the initiative.

After lunch, the various cabins dispersed to their respective lessons/activities with their counselors, and the chaperones and teachers were shuffled to Turkey Point theater where we got the schedules for each of the cabins, the expectations they have of the students, what they hope to accomplish this week, and how he/they handle misbehavior. After the kids’ lessons there followed an activity time, and our girls were scheduled for the giant swing. They get all harnessed up and jump on this 3-seater, get hauled up super high, one of them releases the clip, and off they go, screaming like lunatics. V, K, and M all went together. In fact, they went most everywhere together, and so I nicknamed them Team Type 1 on the first day. They liked it.

We were supposed to go kayaking afterward but the winds were high and the water was choppy, so the activity was cancelled. The girls were so disappointed, and we never did get rescheduled to do it. So we killed time until dinner at Horseshoe Point, which houses an indoor climbing wall, a game (billiards) room, gift shop, and the Frog Spit café. Which serves various flavors of Hershey’s ice cream – though not one kid I saw was eating anything other than the cotton candy ice cream. Bleck. Veruca harangued me into letting her buy a North Bay water bottle for $7.50 that was also used for free soda fountain refills throughout their stay. She left it at home the rest of the week. Most. Expensive. Soda. EVER.

But wait! – there’s more.

 

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

 

November 15, 1987

We’re back from our weekend getaway. We got in around 10 p.m. Friday night at Jeff’s parents’ house. I met both parents and they’re very nice. Jeff and I went out driving later – very fast, but I wasn’t afraid. We talked about very strange things, like death and the afterlife.

Saturday morning Mike and Wendy picked us up. We went to the Mall and I absolutely loved it. There were some really great stores, like the Sharper Image. A great many “catalog” stores. Afterwards, we went to see Scott in the hospital. He’s doing fine, has a pin or two or three – I don’t know – in his leg. I don’t really know him, so I stood back feeling uncomfortable while the guys visited. I felt like I was somehow invading his privacy.

Wendy and I saw the cutest little girl in one of the rooms down the hall. She was all alone and crying, and we got her to stop crying and actually fall to sleep. Afterward, the four of us got sandwiches at a deli and waited for the train into New York.

I LOVED New York. We dubbed our trip “Jeff’s 20-minute tour of New York City,” since he sort of took charge of where we went and what we saw and because we seriously ran through the city. We had taken a train in from Hoboken, and got off in Greenwich Village.

I saw lots of neat stores everywhere to shop in, if only I had the money and we weren’t on a whirlwind tour. We stumbled onto a sex shop called the Pleasure Chest, and the boys dragged us inside. It was wild! I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s way more kinky than Spencer’s. There were glass display cases full of dildos in every size, shape, and color, and other things I had never seen before. And they had these little penis erasers! Now those I would have loved to have. I can’t imagine the looks I’d get in class with them!

We raced through Washington Square Park – this beautiful park surrounded by trees and a huge fountain in the middle, and a huge arch on one side that looked like Paris. There were people everywhere, sitting on park benches and children in the smallest playground area, dogs on leashes, legions of artist-types lounging around the empty fountain, and students with backpacks.

There, and on several of the streets we walked through, I saw purple and white flags hanging all over the place. Turns out this is NYU, or, New York University. It never, ever occurred to me that people go to school in New York. This has to be the coolest place ever to go to school. How cool would that be?

Anyway, Jeff’s Whirlwind Tour came to an end and we took the train back to Hoboken. We went out to dinner at some restaurant there, and had a great time. I love going out to dinner and getting served. Wendy got trashed and so did I – we had an excellent time together. We stopped at Mike’s sister’s apartment. Mike kept dropping the keys at the door, on purpose, because he knew I had to pee.  Everyone was laughing. Except me.

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.